Sunday, July 29, 2012

Explaining the Hour Record

While it should seem natural that most people who read this blog already have some understanding of what the 'hour record' is, it did occur to me that not everyone will know of it. This may include even fellow cyclists. Wikipedia pretty much covers the basic definition as 'the farthest distance ridden on a bicycle in one hour.' At the end of the day that is pretty much it. How far can a person ride a bicycle in 60 minutes time? For the purist among the cycling crowd it is the true test of one's ability to ride said bicycle.

No other sport has anything quite like it. For them it is all about how fast can a specified distance be covered. The Indianapolis and Daytona 500's, the runner's mile, a marathon, the mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby. Even within cycling everything from time trials to the Tour De France is about how fast a rider can get from point A to point B. Those competitions are also based on how fast others can complete the same course against you.

But with the hour record it is you, the bicycle, a track, and a stopwatch.

Part of what separates this event from others, even within the context of cycling, is the use of the velodrome and the type of bike. The use of the velodrome is critical for side by side comparison's of one rider's ability to another. Throughout all other sports, especially ball sports, there is always a debate about the greatest ever. And no true conclusion can ever be made because with those competitions, you are not only comparing competitor versus competitor, but also the eras in which they competed. The use of a velodrome and a track specific bicycle* both bring the playing field to level. (*More on the bicycle debate below.) The purpose of the velodrome is to take out all of the factors that can affect a rider's performance, as well as their shortcomings.

If you take three relatively equally matched professional riders and run a time trial on three different types of courses, you are likely to get three different winners. This is a result of the three riders each having different talents and deficits that can be hidden or exposed by the type of course ridden. But with the velodrome, there are no hills, no descents, no rough pavement, no rain; all things that can adversely affect a result. While there are different types and sizes of velodrome tracks, all are a flat track with two turns.

Taking the course out of the debate leaves us with just the rider and the bike. In the last 30 years; however, the bicycle had become a larger part of the discussion than the riders themselves. Advances in technology, materials, frame designs, and aerodynamics started to push the Hour Record into a competition over who could innovate best. And while yes, the first Hour Record was set using a penny-farthing, the debate was still about the man and his ability.

Controversially, in response to all of the innovation taking place within the sport, it's governing body the Union Cycliste Internationale, or UCI, set to eliminate the equipment advantage out of the equation. It mandated that attempts made on the "Athlete's Hour" follow a strict set of rules regarding frame materials and sizing, tube shapes, wheel design, handle bar shape, and rider positioning. The common terminology for the record attempt and equipment specifications used is know as the "Merckx Hour," or "Merckx Rules." This is drawn from the rules being created to match all future attempts at the hour on using essentially the same specifications used by Eddy Merckx for his successful attempt in 1972. Innovated attempts are still recognized, but they fall into different classifications outside of the Athlete's Hour.

These rules are part of the reasoning behind my naming this The Merckx Project. I don't doubt that I could achieve better results with a lightweight, aerodynamic frame, wheels & helmet, and optimized body position. But I want to find out what I can achieve using essentially the same set of tools as Eddy Merckx. A steel framed, non-aerodynamically enhanced bike, using standard spoked wheels, a single gear, and drop bars with no brakes. And minus the juiced bloodstream, of course.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Little About Myself

My name is Stephen Schilling and I am a married, stay-at-home dad to a 1 year old, a diabetic, a college graduate, a fan of cycling and bicycle racing, a LEGO fan, and a graphic designer.

I graduated from college in 2001 with a degree in graphic design and worked as a designer in freelance, newspaper publications, the travel industry, and commercial real estate industries. After leaving my last position as a graphic designer, I transitioned into a role of a stay-at-home dad and developed this project to test myself and make a contribution to the study of type 1 diabetes.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1983 as a child. For all of my knowing life it has been a condition that I have had to treat and learn to live alongside. While realizing the challenges it presents, I have never really treated it as a handicap or a disability. To the contrary; as a cyclist, being diabetic has taught me the importance of proper nutrition and diet to the goal of bettering myself and living a healthy and active lifestyle.

My affinity for the sport of cycling may be able to be traced back to the late 1980's, when Greg LeMond was winning the Tour De France and World Championships. Growing up in Indianapolis, I knew of 'racing' through the Indy 500. Being a kid, the bicycle was my only mode of transportation. And so it became a natural fit to put LeMond's success, racing, and bicycles together. Throughout the 1990's, as a bicycle continued to be my only means of self sufficient transport, my love affair with it continued to grow. By the end of the decade, I began to see the bicycle for more than just independence and transportation, and by 2000, while in college, I competed in my first race. I believe I finished 7th out of 13, completely blown out the back in the field sprint. But a new version of my love for the bicycle took off. I raced in a couple dozen events over the next 5 years until burnout set in, and after a wreck caused by a low blood suger at the end of 2005 I walked away from the sport altogether. I tried other activities like running, soccer, and ice skating to entertain myself and keep a healthy lifestyle.

In 2010, the bug finally bit me again, and I was back on the bicycle. Which brings us to today. While I don't have the competitive spirit to be successful in racing, I did want to set a goal for myself that one, would motivate me to become better than I am today, and two, would be an experience that would stand above anything I could "buy" or that just anyone could do. And so was born the idea of experiencing an attempt at the hour record.

In the coming weeks, I'll share how the full plan has developed, and update you on the progress and steps achieved to realizing my gial so far...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

In the Benginning

Welcome to the Merckx Project. In the coming weeks, I will introduce you to my attempt to ride what is known as The Hour Record. Stay tuned.....